The home stretch approaches.
Just two weeks of games remain in Big Ten play. and as the standings begin to shake themselves out, some clarity has begun to sink in, at least in the form of defined tiers. Though there is still plenty to be decided, recent results have made some things readily apparent, and others less so.
Maryland has established themselves as the team to beat (with Northwestern nipping at their heels), and the bottom three, as always, remain the same. Despite some intriguing results, chaos still reigns in the middle of the pack, with some crucial matchups on the horizon. So, without any further ado, let’s jump right into it:
Tier 1: Title favorites
#1: #10 Maryland (21-4, 12-2 B1G)
Last Week: 1
Right now, the Terrapins are downright terrifying. Finally firing on all cylinders, Brenda Frese’s supremely talented bunch has won ten straight, controls their own destiny with regards to a share of the Big Ten title, and may even be making waves with regards to the fourth one seed.
After home shellackings of Rutgers and Iowa (by 29 and 34 points respectively), Maryland heads to Penn State and Wisconsin next. I shudder to even consider potential final scores.
#2: #19 Northwestern (21-3, 11-2)
Last Week: 3
The Wildcats may not be doing it in quite as terrifying a fashion as the current Big Ten leaders, but they can’t stop winning either. With big shots and necessary buckets coming from anywhere and everywhere within the starting five, Northwestern followed an impressive home beatdown of Michigan State with a necessary, if ugly, road win against Michigan.
The schedule gets a bit easier from here, but hosting Nebraska tomorrow and Rutgers on Wednesday will each require solid efforts. Still, especially with what they have showed in their current hot streak, Northwestern is more than capable of winning out and earning their way to at least a partial conference title.
Tier 2: Waiting for a slip-up
#3: #20 Indiana (20-6, 10-4)
Last Week: 4
After their expected setback against Maryland, the Hoosiers squeaked out wins over Nebraska and Illinois on the road. Neither was a top-tier performance, but IU is doing what it takes to win and avoiding slip-ups against the bottom of the conference.
Indeed, Indiana still has only lost to top-four B1G teams in conference play, with another chance to extend that streak coming at Assembly Hall against Ohio State on Sunday. The Hoosiers may not be exactly where they were hoping at this point, but their postseason outlook is still pretty positive.
#4: #17 Iowa (20-5, 11-3)
Last Week: 2
Yes, the Hawkeyes have head-to-head wins over the top three teams on this list. But they’re called “power rankings” for a reason, and in my opinion, a team that lost a conference game 93-59, especially when that game was even worse than the final shows (it was 85-45 with just over three minutes left) just cannot be in the top ten.
Yell at me about recency bias all you want, but this team has clearly lost a step, and though they are still having a fantastic, unexpected season, it’s a problem. Next up: two prime opportunities to bounce back, as the Hawkeyes play host to Wisconsin and Penn State.
Tier 3: Fringe (but on the right side of the bubble for now) Tournament teams
#5: Michigan (16-8, 7-6)
Last Week: 6
The Wolverines have all sorts of injury issues, but they just keep gutting out crucial wins. Thursday’s tough loss to Northwestern halted an impressive three-game winning streak. Nevertheless, Michigan has booked huge wins over Purdue, Iowa, and Minnesota (in blowout fashion) this month alone.
Tomorrow morning’s BTN clash with Rutgers will be huge as the two teams jockey for position in the middle of this conference. Hopefully, the Wolverines will be as close to full strength as possible.
#6: Ohio State (15-9, 8-5)
Last Week: 9
Suddenly, the Buckeyes are riding a four-game win streak. After a tough January, OSU took advantage of the soft part of their schedule. Unfortunately, things are about to firm back up a bit. but getting even two more wins the rest of the way (they face Indiana, Nebraska, Rutgers, Northwestern, and Purdue) may well be enough to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Any more would just be gravy.
#7: Rutgers (17-6, 7-6)
Last Week: 5
A disastrous start to February has the Scarlet Knights looking like a team in free fall. This week, they got blown off the court by Maryland before allowing Michigan State to complete an embarrassing season sweep. Bottom line: that offense has gotta get fixed, and soon, because the slate isn’t getting any easier.
#8: Purdue (16-10, 7-7)
Last Week: 7
After eating some tough losses at the start of the month, Purdue continues to hum along on the right side of the bubble. 23 and 12 from Ae’Rianna Harris (pictured) off the bench helped them survive Wisconsin, but they may need to get in gear soon to earn the wins they will need come Selection Monday.
After Sunday’s tilt with Illinois, they will host the Spartans in the middle of the week.
#9: Nebraska (16-9, 6-8)
Last Week: 8
Nebraska is hanging on to an NCAA Tournament bid by the skin of their teeth right now. The Huskers need to make a statement after key close losses to Indiana and Ohio State (a blowout win over Penn State is meaningless) and they have a great week to do so: a rematch with the Buckeyes immediately follows their date with the Wildcats.
Tier 4: The enigmas
#10: Michigan State (12-12, 5-8)
Last Week: 11
Michigan State is certainly the strangest team in the conference, and, honestly, probably the country as a whole too. Beset by both injury woes and general struggles with team chemistry and consistency, the Spartans lost five consecutive games by an average of a whopping 26.6 points, a run of futility that came to a close with last week’s combined 71-point destruction at the hands of Maryland and Northwestern.
That was bookended by a prior three-game win streak that included wins over Rutgers and Ohio State, and, now, yet another win over the Scarlet Knights. Oh, and they also lost to Penn State a month ago. So, yeah.
#11: Minnesota (15-10, 5-9)
Last Week: 10
The Gophers are no Michigan State, but they aren’t exactly having a normal month either. A three game win streak had them looking like they were ready to make a run at the NCAA Tournament bubble, but the bottom quickly fell out in blowout losses to Michigan and Ohio State.
On Monday, Minnesota and the Spartans get the whole night to themselves. Can’t say I’m not looking forward to perhaps the strangest yet most compelling 2019-20 conference matchup.
Tier 5: The bottom-feeders
#12: Wisconsin (11-14, 3-11)
Last Week: 12
Hey, they hung with Purdue! (This team is not winning again during the regular season.)
#13: Illinois (11-13, 2-11)
Last Week: 13
Took down Penn State and almost beat Indiana somehow! I considered moving this team up to 12th for the first time in just over a month, so that’s something.
#14: Penn State (7-18, 1-13)
Last Week: 14
Well, Penn State is bad. They’ll always have that random win over Michigan State, though. Nobody can take that away from them.